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Last night I had dinner in a ramen restaurant in northern Japan and was surprised to read the katakana "ライス" (raisu) on the menu. This is obviously the English word "rice" borrowed. But what kind of rice or method of preparation might it refer to given that Japanese already has "kome", "gohan", and "meshi"?

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Not related to question, but if you ever have a chance to eat tan-tan-men (担々麺), it's the greatest thing ever!!! –  istrasci Jun 10 '11 at 2:58
    
I think I ate tantan (or dandan) something on a previous visit to Japan. Perhaps at Naka-u? I seem to recall looking it up and it being of Indonesion origin... not exactly but: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_dan_noodles –  hippietrail Jun 10 '11 at 3:02
    
I've heard it's Chinese, but that it's prepared very differently. There's a chain in Japan called ちんまや (陳麻家 - chin-ma-ya.net) that's really good. I think it's in most major cities. –  istrasci Jun 10 '11 at 14:37

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

ご飯 (ごはん), 飯 (めし) and ライス all refer to the same thing: steamed rice. ご飯 and 飯 can mean meal, too.

As you said, it is not uncommon to see ライス in a menu at a restaurant, even when it is not part of a compound word such as カレーライス. I do not know why they do not say ご飯, and I can only make a guess at possible reasons:

  • As Jeshii said, they may want to make it sound like something fancy by using a loanword instead of the more common word ご飯. (But I am not sure if calling it ライス really sounds fancy compared to calling it ご飯.)
  • As Uronym said, they may serve steamed rice on a plate, in which case it is understandable to call it differently from the usual steamed rice in Japanese cuisine, which is served in a bowl. (But the question is about a ramen restaurant, and I would be surprised if a ramen restaurant in Japan serves steamed rice on a plate. The use of the word ライス is not uncommon in ramen restaurants.)
  • Depending on context, ご飯 refers to meal, and they may want to avoid possible confusion caused by this usage. (But some restaurants do write ご飯 to mean steamed rice and there is no possibility of confusion. Note that “set meal” at a restaurant has a separate word 定食 (ていしょく).)

As you can see, I am not satisfied with any of these reasons. If there is a better explanation, I am happy to learn it.

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Yours is the best answer so far despite your doubts. We did get a bowl of steamed rice with our ramen but it was my friend who ordered and I didn't ask if she ordered it as "raisu" or if it was included. But when I asked her why they called it by the English name she could only come up with "fancy" as an answer. Whether that meant "fancy rice" or "fancy word" was unclear. –  hippietrail Jun 10 '11 at 1:44

ライス is used for non-Japanese rice dishes, I believe, like curry or rice served on a plate in Western fashion. カタカナ and borrowed words are also used as 'fancy' or 'elegant' alternatives in Japan, especially in advertising.

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Hm... I've often ordered ライス and got rice in a 茶碗, so not sure that's completely consistent. –  dainichi Jan 24 '12 at 10:24

In addition to the other answers, ライス is sometimes simply used for disambiguation. The meaning of ご飯 gohan largely overlaps with "meal", so it can become ambiguous whether you're talking about a "meal" (as opposed to à la carte) or "rice". The more specific words for "rice" like 白米 can be too specific, so ライス is a broad, convenient descriptor.

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You know how Eskimos have 80 words for snow?

Seriously though, I think it has to do with the fact that there are certain dishes that are western in origin. They use rice, but they are served differently. Take a look at dishes like 「カレーライス」 or 「ハヤシライス」 or 「タコライス」. All of these are served on plate or with western ingredients. ご飯 and 丼 are usually served in their own dish or in a bowl with more standard things on top.

There's also the fact that カタカナ英語 is very common. For some anecdotal evidence, there was a tour book for Tokyo Disneyland that I bought once that literally had combinations like, 「ファンタスティックスな素晴らしさ」. Basically they were just throwing in カタカナ英語 to enhance it and make it look special.

You'll find lots of words where there is カタカナ英語, a "native" Japanese word, and an imported 漢字 compound all for the exact same thing. Japanese is a language that does this a lot.

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Don't think I didn't consider bringing up the Eskimo snow meme in my question (-: I had seen ライス used in longer words before (omuraisu is a favourite linguistic mashup of mine) but at this restaurant they listed ライス as a word on its own. And the menu wasn't overly katakana-eigo elsewhere. –  hippietrail Jun 10 '11 at 0:11
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And let's not forget that some even have onomatopoeia as well: 「キス」, 「口付け」, 「接吻」, 「ちゅう」. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jun 10 '11 at 0:15
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I would like to point out that I still think it is weird that a ramen place is serving rice at all! Maybe the non-traditional nature of eating rice with ramen mandates use of the word ライス??? –  Jeshii Jun 10 '11 at 1:36
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Actually, don't really have so much words for snow. The Inuit language works in such a way that it's a bit hard to count, but usually people talk about 5 to 8 words. English has more. :) –  Boaz Yaniv Jun 10 '11 at 6:47
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I don't know if @Jeshii was being sarcastic about the snow remark, but to quote Wikipedia, "In general, the Eskimo-Aleut languages have about the same number of distinct word roots referring to snow as English does.". The 80 words are probably referring to compound words. –  syockit Jul 17 '11 at 15:30

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